Last year’s Unilever Food Solutions’ Young Chef of the Year winner, Chef Terror Lekopa, journeyed to Nice in France to work in Chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s Michelin-starred JAN restaurant as part of his prize. Chef Lekopa, who is currently Junior Sous Chef at the InterContinental Sandton, chats with us about his experience:
Can you tell us a bit more about your work experience at JAN restaurant? What did you get up to while you were there? The experience I gained during my time at JAN Restaurant was absolutely amazing. Working under the first South African Chef to acquire a Michelin Star is an absolute honour in itself, and being guided by him was a blessing I will reap the benefits of for the rest of my career. I learnt how to utilise new cooking methods in ways that truly capture the soul of the Chef preparing them. It was just an awesome trip as a whole – the views from the promenade are just breath-taking.
What was it like working in a Michelin-starred restaurant? It’s not the same as your typical high-end restaurant here in South Africa, it is on another level. Everything is expected to reach a consistent level of perfection at all times, with no room for error. Every dish that leaves the kitchen has to tell a story, in the form of edible art.
Can you share any specific learnings that you gained during your experience? Of course, I came away from the experience with many new learnings in terms of methodology, culinary knowledge and experience, but the one thing which sticks out for me was how I was taught to make the amazing and tasty Pork Lard and Biltong Candle. Understanding the process really blew my mind, and it was just tasty as you’d imagine!
Are there any differences you noticed about working in Nice compared with Joburg? It is in some ways very similar, if I think about it. Remember, Jan Hendrik van Der Westhuizen is South African, so most of his dishes are influenced by or draw inspiration from South African culture – there is, however, a distinct French twist to his cooking style and kitchen processes.
What was one of the best things you ate while you were in Nice? Mosbolletjie Brood with Pork Lard and Biltong Candle and roasted banana butter, which I had the opportunity to taste while dining at JAN Restaurant.
Were there any dishes on the JAN menu that inspired you and made you think differently about presenting South African food? There was one dish, actually… A Guinea Fowl Bobotie dish served at the restaurant. The way it was prepared was inherently traditional, with a subtle twist which made it uniquely different to what we are used to in South Africa (where Bobotie is typically prepared with beef mince.) The execution of the dish was very well considered, and I was inspired by this.
How do you think that this work experience will impact your work as a chef going forward? The experience will definitely come in handy in the future, when I refer back to the dishes I learnt how to prepare. The methods of preparation and innovative ideas I was exposed to will assist me in thinking out of the box and, one day, creating the perfect menu. I have been inspired and enlightened by this experience, and I will carry it with me as I spread my wings and venture into success and greatness.